Clean Ocean Action

Earth Day 2024 Press Conference on Plastic Pollution

Clean Ocean Action participated in an Earth Day press conference at the State House in Trenton, NJ. The press conference, held with other environmental groups, followed a special Joint NJ Senate and Assembly Committee hearing focused on the effects of plastics on human health. A screening of the documentary, “We’re All Plastic People Now,” followed.

COA spoke about the success of NJ’s Get Past Plastic Law in reducing plastic waste. COA used data and debris collected at our Beach Sweeps litter cleanups to illustrate that plastic bag and foam plastic food service litter has decreased, but plastic pollution remains a serious problem. Plastic is man-made from fossil fuels, never fully degrades, and has a toxic life cycle which threatens public health and the environment. Plastic waste in the ocean also maims, harms or kills marine life through ingestion and/or entanglement.

Since 1984, COA has worked to implement the most effective policies to reduce and eliminate plastics, especially single-use plastics. The work continues and the Beach Sweeps program provides evidence of the persistent plastic pollution problems that still must be addressed.

Photo by Jo Arlow Photography taken at COA's Spring 2024 Beach Sweeps, Plum Island B.

The Problems with Plastics:

  • 310,739: Total number of plastic items removed by volunteers at the 2022 Beach Sweeps in New Jersey.
  • Oil, gas, & coal are the fossil-fuel building blocks of plastics.
  • The entire lifecycle of plastics causes air, land, & water pollution.
  • Plastics have been found in human food, as well as blood, heart, lung, brain, & other organs.

The Solutions: How Can YOU Help?


Wave Goodbye to Plastic Carryout Bags & Foam Plastics! (And Skip the Straw, too!)

Good job, New Jersey! In just 5 months of the full law coming into effect in May 2022, the New Jersey Food Council estimates that 3.44 BILLION plastic bags and 68 million paper bags have been eliminated from the waste stream as a result of this law! In addition, 8.4 million single-use bags are not being distributed annually! Clearly, the law is having a positive impact on our communities and the environment. Keep it up!

On May 4, 2022, the Single-Use Waste Reduction Act (P.L.2020, c.117) came into effect. This law significantly restricts the availability of single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food service products, and single-use paper bags within the Garden State. More information about the law and the upcoming implementation of its provisions concerning single-use plastic bags, single-use paper bags, polystyrene foam food products, and plastic straws can be found on NJDEP’s website at NJDEP has also indicated that any comments or questions about the law for the Department should be submitted via email to or via telephone at (609) 984-4250.

Here is a quick summary of the law's requirements:

  • Single-use carryout plastic bags

    • May not be provided or sold to a customer by any store or food service business

    • Exceptions

      • A bag used solely to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, or poultry
      • A bag used solely to package loose items (e.g., fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, grains, baked goods, candy, greeting cards, flowers, or small hardware items)
      • A bag used solely to contain live animals, such as fish or insects sold in a pet store
      • A bag used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order, including soup or hot food
      • A laundry, dry cleaning, or garment bag
      • A bag provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs
      • A newspaper bag
  • Single-use paper carryout bags

    • May not be provided or sold to a customer by any grocery store

      • “Grocery store” includes any self-service retail establishment that occupies at least 2,500 square feet and sells household foodstuffs for off-site consumption.

        • Household foodstuffs include, but are not limited to: fresh produce, meat, poultry, fish, deli products, dairy products, canned foods, dry foods, beverages, baked foods, or prepared foods

      • “Grocery store” does not include an establishment that handles only prepackaged food that does not require time or temperature controls for food safety

  • Polystyrene food service products

    • No food service business may provide or sell any food in a polystyrene foam food service product

    • No one may sell or offer for sale any polystyrene foam food service product

    • Products exempt until May 4, 2024:

      • Disposable, long-handled polystyrene foam soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks
      • Portion cups of two ounces or less if used for hot foods or foods requiring lids
      • Meat and fish trays for raw or butchered meat, including poultry or fish that is sold from a refrigerator or similar retail appliance
      • Any food product pre-packaged by the manufacturer with a polystyrene foam food service product
  • NJDEP is authorized to issue one-year waivers for the prohibition on polystyrene foam food service products, but food service businesses must apply for a waiver and NJDEP has not yet prescribed the form or manner for waiver applications.

Notably, in addition to authorizing the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) to enforce the provisions, the law authorizes all municipalities to enforce the new legal framework as well. 

The law’s provisions concerning single-use plastic straws have already been in effect for six months. Since November 4, 2021, all food service businesses have been able to provide single-use plastic straws to customers only upon request. Unlike the other provisions of the law, which are jointly enforced by municipalities and NJDEP, it is the New Jersey State Department of Health that shares responsibility with municipalities for enforcing the restrictions on single-use plastic straws.

The Plastic Pollution Plague: New Jersey & Beyond


Plastics are a human-created boon and bane. While the benefits are many, the wasteful use of plastics, particularly for single-use items, has become a plague and is an ecosystem crisis.

  • Plastics are now found throughout world and are accumulating in all marine ecosystems.

  • Plastic marine litter eventually breaks down into smaller bits and ultimately becomes microplastics.

  • If plastic pollution continues at the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

  • Plastic pollution is killing, maiming, and harming marine life through ingestion or entanglement.

  • Plastic is now found in some seafood and sea salt.  The long-term human health risks are real.

Long After Use, Plastic is Forever

Most of the plastic used and consumed is used once. However, these products never completely go away – they can last for generations long after their single use.

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the estimated decomposition rates of plastic debris found on coasts are: 
    • Foamed plastic cups: 50 years 
    • Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
    • Plastic bottle: 450 years
    • Fishing line: 600 years
    • Plastic grocery bag: 10 to 20 years

The Effect Plastics Have on the Environment

All our plastic waste is causing significant harm to ocean life:

  • For decades cases of sea birds feeding plastic food to chicks, and whales and sea turtles harmed or killed by plastic bags, have made the news. More recently, coral reefs have been found smothered by plastic bags and turtles have been found with straws jammed into their nostrils.
  • Marne debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species.
  • When plastic ingestion occurs, it blocks the digestive tract, gets lodged in animals’ windpipes cutting airflow and causing suffocation, or fills the stomach, resulting in malnutrition, starvation and potentially death.
  • Entanglement of species in marine debris is a global problem affecting at least 200 species. It can cause decreased swimming ability, disruption in feeding, life-threatening injuries, and death.  


Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic ranging in size from 5mm (a grain of rice) to microscopic.  They have been found in every corner of the planet—from NJ beaches to Arctic sea ice and from farm fields to urban air.  Sources are many, and include industrial pellets and clothes dryer vents.  Importantly, marine plastic is breaking down into microplastics and are being absorbed into the food chain.

Plastic Pollution in New Jersey

  Data from Clean Ocean Action’s Annual Beach Sweeps provide a snap-shot of the scope of the problem in New Jersey.





Plastic Bags




Plastic Straws




Foam Food Products

(cups, take-out containers, plates)





Foam Pieces




It is clear that our increasing use of plastics, especially single-use items, is causing irreparable damage to the environment.



An Overview of Global to Local Solutions

Ever increasing public opposition to the harm caused by plastic, especially single-use items, is resulting in actions to limit plastic consumption and waste to protect our coastal and marine ecosystems.



International Single-Use Plastics Regulations

  • In a 571-53 vote, the EU approved a measure to ban specific single use plastic items in 2018.
    • Under the proposed directive, items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery would be banned by 2021, and 90% of plastic bottle recycled by 2025.
  • Canada aims to ban single-use plastics by 2020
    • The government said it would undertake scientific analysis before determining which plastic products to ban as early as 2021. But Mr. Trudeau said Canada expected to follow the example of the European Union.
    • The ban will likely include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks. 

Statewide Efforts

  • Vermont (S.113) - Bans single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food service products, plastic beverage stirrers, and single-use plastic straws upon request, effective in July 2020

  • California (SB.270) - Bans single-use plastic bags in 2016 (allows for thicker “reusable” plastic film bags), and first state to adopt statewide ban on plastic straws in 2018
  • Maine (LD.289) - 1st state to ban single-use polystyrene foam containers and later plastic bags, effective  April 22, 2020
  • Oregon (HB.2509) - Bans single-use plastic bags with a five-cent fee on paper & reusable bags and single-use plastic straws upon request, effective January 2020
  • New York (SB.1508) - 3rd state to ban single-use plastic bags, effective March 2020
  • Hawaii - 1st state to ban single-use plastic bags through a de facto ban in all counties  in 2015
  • Connecticut (Public Act 19-117, § 355) - 10-cent fee on plastic bags & eventual complete ban in 2021
  • Maryland (SB.285) - Bans all polystyrene foam food packaging, effective July 2020
  • Delaware (HB. 130) - Bans plastic bags effective January 2021

American Cities Ban Plastics

  • Washington, DC - Implemented a five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags in 2009; banned Styrofoam food serviceware in 2016; banned plastic straws and stirrers in 2018
  • Seattle, WA - Banned plastic bags in 2012; in July 2018, banned single-use plastic straws and utensils
  • Baltimore, MD - Banned plastic bags and added a five-cent fee for all other bags in 2020
  • Boston, MA - Banned plastic bags in 2017; includes five-cent fee on paper bags
  • San Francisco, CA - Banned plastic bags in 2007
  • Edmonds, WA - Banned plastic bags in 2009
  • Portland, OR - Banned plastic bags in summer 2011
  • Bellingham, WA - Banned plastic bags in 2011
  • New York City, NY - Banned polystyrene food containers in January 2019
  • Philadelphia, PA - Banned plastic bags in 2019


New Jersey Municipal Single-Use Plastics Ordinances

See the full list here!

  • New Jersey57 ordinances have been passed addressing single-use plastics.




Single-Use Plastics: Municipal Actions & More

Clean Ocean Action strongly urges municipalities to pass local ordinances addressing single-use plastic pollution. Currently, COA is aware of 57 municipalities that have adopted such ordinances.

These single-use plastic reduction ordinances are just a first step to reducing the plastic pollution that plagues our state and waterways and causes such harm and even death to marine life.

Is your municipality on the list below? If not, bring COA's model ordinances for banning single-use plastic straws, bags, polystyrene (Styrofoam) foam food containers, and utensils, or all of them in ONE (recommended), to your next council meeting and urge them to adopt it. 


42 municipalities + 2 counties – Passed and in effect

1.  Asbury Park – January 2020

2.  Atlantic County – August 2018

3.  Atlantic Highlands – November 2019

4.    Avalon – June 2019

5.    Bayonne – January 2020

6.    Beach Haven  – June 2019

7.    Belmar – May 2018

8.    Bradley Beach – January 2019

9.    Brigantine  – June 2019

10. Camden County January 2020

11. Chatham Borough – March 2020

12. Chatham Township – March 2020

13. Cranford - January 2020

14. Fair Haven - February 2020

15.  Garfield – January 2020 

16.  Glen Rock – January 2020

17. Harrington Park - January 2020

18.   Harvey Cedars– June 2018

19.   Highland Park – Phase One: May 2019, 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Phase Two: November 2019, ban on single-use plastic bags and 10-cent fee on paper

20.   Hoboken – January 2019

21.   Hopewell – September 30, 2019

22.  Jersey City – June 2019

23.    Lambertville – January 2020

24.  Little Silver – October 2019

25.   Long Beach Township – May 2018

26.   Longport – December 2015

27.  Madison – March 2020

28.  Maplewood – July 2019

29.    Monmouth Beach – June 2018

30.  Montclair December 2019

31.  Ocean Gate – September 13, 2019

32.  Paramus – September 2020

33.  Parsippany-Troy Hills – January 2020

34.   Point Pleasant Beach – May 2018

35.   Ridgewood – January 2020

36.  Saddle Brook – January 2020

37. Sea Bright - January 2020

38. Secaucus – February 2020

39.  Somers Point – January 2019

40.  South Orange – January 2020

41.   Stafford Township – August 2018

42. Stockton Borough - February 2020

43.  Stone Harbor – June 2019  

44. Ventnor – October 2018

45. West Cape May - December 2019

46. Woodland Park – March 2020

11 municipalities – Passed and waiting to go into effect

1. Berkeley Heights - December 2020

2. Collingswood – April 2020

3.  Haworth – March 24, 2020

4. Leonia - June 1, 2020

5.  Long Branch – December 2020

6. Millburn – June 2020

7. Morris Township - July 2020

8. Red Bank – September 2020

9.  Summit – May 2020

10. Teaneck – July 2018 [ON HOLD]

11. Trenton – December 2020

Total: 57 ordinances

Click here to download!

Here is a list of the 25 total ordinances addressing single-use plastics around the state.

New Jersey Single-Use Plastic Reduction Ordinances


57 total plastic ordinances (as of February 2020)

  • 12 plastic bag bans

  • 2 plastic bag fees – no fee on paper 

  • 2 paper/plastic fees

  • 19 hybrid ordinances – bans plastic, places fee on paper

  • 22 multi-faceted ordinances (straws, bags, polystyrene)

  • At least 15 pending ordinances (drafted ordinance / under consideration)



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Field Office:

Gateway National Recreation Area
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